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Nuking Silicon Valley

The new head of the U.S. Executive Branch took several actions this week that have profound collateral consequences for Silicon Valley as well as its scientific and technical communities. Presumably, he thought it was payback time for not supporting him. Perhaps he thought that producing automobiles domestically for non-Muslim U.S. citizens to drive around a walled nation is the way to future economic success. No matter, the effects of actions taken this week are the equivalent of nuking Silicon Valley. It is not making America Great, but seriously damaging one of its most valuable global strategic and economic assets—its tech industry.

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The Executive Order stripping non-citizens of Privacy Act protections:

With a stroke of the pen, the White House Interior Public Safety Executive Order of 25 January 2017 directed Federal Agencies to “ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.” The EO itself reads like a xenophobic hate speech banned under international law, but that is another matter. The aggressive, blunt requirement imposed on all Executive Branch agencies is the only known statement by any government in the world that non-citizens data enjoys no data privacy protections.

The reality here is that the unbounded breadth of the action has the likely collateral effect of offshore users shunning, and governments requiring that almost all services and data storage reside entirely outside the U.S. This effect in turn in today’s global ICT ecosystem, means that U.S. based cloud data centers, including their management offices, become vacant. It all moves to other jurisdictions, including the new virtualized 5G and NFV-SDN telecommunication instantiations and Internet of Things offerings. Not a good outcome.

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The Executive Order denying entry to Muslims in 7 countries:

With yet another stroke of the pen yesterday, the White House Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States Executive Order of 27 January 2017 blocked entry into the United States for three months for citizens in seven predominantly Muslim countries. Even existing Green Card holders are banned from re-entry. It is unclear what will occur after 90 days, but it appears that onerous strictures will remain in place.

Here also, the breadth and blatant religious discrimination are unprecedented in recent American history and contrary to existing public international law relating to xenophobia and domestic legislative strictures. The Order was nonetheless issued, and it is already affecting Silicon Valley firms whose employees are from the banned nations, litigation is being undertaken, and opinions are being given about the egregious policy dimensions of the action.

However, this Executive Order is almost certain to result in Silicon Valley’s lifeblood of technical and industry international organizations worldwide shunning the United States for their conferences and meetings. The reasons are both practical (Muslim members of the organizations cannot enter the U.S. to participate) and political—just as South Africa was shunned for years because of its Apartheid policies. The reactions here seem likely to be swift, and possibly long-lasting as everyone shifts events out of the U.S. The adverse results, of course, reach far beyond Silicon Valley to all U.S. industries and sectors.

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Outrageous, ill-considered petulance has a price; and when it is a national leader issuing Executive Orders rather than customary simple-minded tweets, the price can be severe.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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